May 10, 2018

In what it describes as a coincidence, Columbus Nova, the Russian-linked New York investment firm that paid $500,000 to President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen last year for unspecified investment consulting, also hired Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz to represent it in a commercial lawsuit, ProPublica reports. A Kasowitz spokesman told ProPublica that Kasowitz and his partners represented Columbus Nova in a lawsuit from 2010 until early 2017, and said Cohen's brief time working in Kasowitz's Manhattan offices in February 2017 had no connection to the Columbus Nova work.

Columbus Nova, which used to call itself "the U.S. investment vehicle for the Renova Group” but now refers to Renova as a client, is led by CEO Andrew Intrater, a cousin of Renova owner Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch. A spokesman told ProPublica that Kasowitz did not introduce Columbus Nova to Cohen. Columbus Nova, like several other companies, paid Cohen through Essential Consultants LLC, a shell company he set up in October 2016 to secretly pay porn star Stormy Daniels to keep silent about her purported extramarital affair with Trump. The shell company's existence wasn't known publicly until The Wall Street Journal revealed it in January.

Oddly, Columbus Nova is also listed as the organization behind a strange collection of website domains registered two days after Hillary Clinton gave a high-profile speech denouncing the alt-right, The Washington Post reports. The websites — which include alt-right.co, alternate-right.com, alt-rite.com, and other alt-right iterations plus CNNjournal.com and 1-800getalife.com — are not operational, and they were registered under the name Frederick Intrater, Andrew Intrater's brother and a design manager at Columbus Nova. A Columbus Nova spokesman said Frederick Intrater did not register the sites on behalf of the company, the Post says, "even though he had used his company email address and listed the organization."

"Perhaps Frederick Intrater is just a savvy domain squatter!" says Gizmodo's Tom McKay. But this is a super weird plot twist in an already bizarre story. Peter Weber

4:47 p.m.

After months of endless confusion and controversy, the 2019 Oscars is nearly here. Here's what to expect from what could be the most bizarre Academy Awards in years:

1. Roma wins Best Picture: Netflix's film is the heavy favorite, although the Academy has never chosen a foreign-language Best Picture, so don't count out Green Book. In fact, nearly all of the nominees have a shot — yes, even Bohemian Rhapsody. Roma's Alfonso Cuarón should also take Best Director.

2. Rami Malek, Glenn Close, Mahershala Ali, and Regina King win: The four acting prizes look essentially locked up, although there could potentially be an upset win for Rachel Weisz over King.

3. No host, but plenty of presenters: The Academy is proceeding without a host for the first time in three decades, and the show is expected to rely on presenters to keep the night moving — including some from outside of Hollywood like Serena Williams and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). The last host-less Oscars was an infamous disaster, so is another train wreck in store?

4. Musical performances: The songs are back on after the Academy briefly considered cutting all but two, although Black Panther's Kendrick Lamar and SZA won't be coming. Still, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga will sing "Shallow," and Jennifer Hudson, Bette Midler, and Queen + Adam Lambert will also perform.

5. The Academy put on blast? Almost everyone had a reason to be mad at the Academy's leadership over the past six months due to a variety of since-rescinded changes, including a proposal to not give out all the awards live. After the most contentious Oscars rollout ever, don't be surprised to see a rogue presenter — Frances McDormand, anyone? — call out the producers and speak against similarly awful tweaks to 2020's show.

6. So much for three hours: Remember when the Academy vowed to rein the show into a tight three hours? Well, they've since given up, so expect another late night. Brendan Morrow

4:10 p.m.

Reports of the Mueller report may have been greatly exaggerated.

On Wednesday, sources told CNN that Attorney General William Barr will announce the completion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe "as early as next week." Now, a senior Justice Department official is telling NBC News that's not quite true.

Mueller has been investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian election interference for nearly two years, and has levied indictments against or negotiated plea deals with 37 people. Still, as NBC News reported Friday, the Justice Department isn't expecting to hear everything from him next week. And when Mueller does drop the details, Barr will still have to read it and write a summary of the confidential report that he'll give to Congress.

If you're still itching for details, Mueller's sentencing memorandum in his case against ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort is due Friday at midnight. The report will contain pretty much everything prosecutors want a judge to know before Manafort's March 13 sentencing, CNN notes.

Meanwhile, reports are also saying Mueller will issue his report before the sun expands to engulf the planet. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:01 p.m.

Reproductive health organizations that refer patients to abortion providers are about to lose major federal funding.

Reflecting conservative calls to "defund Planned Parenthood," the Trump administration on Friday issued a new rule that excludes abortion providers and abortion referrers from Title X funding. Once it takes effect, the family planning program will largely direct its $286 million budget to faith-based reproductive health groups, The Washington Post reports.

The rule, which will take effect 60 days after it's published on the federal register in the next few days, doesn't completely strip Planned Parenthood's funding, Politico notes. But it still means it and other providers can't conduct abortions or issue referrals at the same facilities it uses for other reproductive services, such as STD and breast cancer screenings. If Planned Parenthood violates those standards, it won't be able to access about $60 million in annual funding it gets from Title X.

President Trump's Department of Health and Human Services issued a first draft of the report last year, NPR says. The newest edition comes as Trump has ramped up his anti-abortion rhetoric, and governors, state attorneys general, and advocates have already promised they'll challenge it legally. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:27 p.m.

The New York Times has just published the third exposé on Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-Minn.) alleged mistreatment of her staff this month.

Reports about the evidently nightmarish experience of working for Klobuchar, who is running for president in 2020, were previously documented by HuffPost and BuzzFeed News, but Friday's from the Times is by far the weirdest if only for its opening anecdote.

Apparently, during a 2008 trip to South Carolina, an aide delivered Klobuchar a salad but didn't bring a fork, and there weren't any on the flight. "What happened next was typical: Ms. Klobuchar berated her aide instantly for the slip-up," the Times writes. "What happened after that was not: She pulled a comb from her bag and began eating the salad with it." Klobuchar reportedly then handed the comb to the aide and demanded they "clean it."

Aides interviewed for this piece described working for Klobuchar, who is reportedly known to berate employees frequently and throw office supplies at them, as "dehumanizing." Klobuchar is also described as shooting "slashing remarks" at employees "without particular provocation," including once saying to a staffer, "I would trade three of you for a bottle of water."

There also seems to be a potential violation of Senate rules: Klobuchar reportedly has an "unusual" parental leave policy, requiring those who take leave to commit to staying for three times as long as they were gone when they return. If they don't, they have to pay back the money they earned while on leave. A spokeswoman for Klobuchar said they have "never made staff pay back any of their leave and will be changing that language in the handbook."

Klobuchar has responded to reports of her alleged behavior by saying, "Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes." Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

2:48 p.m.

You don't have to have a Facebook account for Facebook to know all about you.

In its testing of more than 70 of the most popular apps in Apple's iOS store,The Wall Street Journal has found that at least 11 of them collected personal data and sent it to Facebook. Users didn't even have to be logged into the apps via Facebook, or even have a Facebook account, for their data to be shipped out, the Journal reports.

Most apps warn users that their data may be sent to third parties, but usually don't specify who. Reports have also shown that Facebook gets data regarding when users open other apps. But in the case of several top apps, personal and sensitive data was set to Facebook — some "immediately after it was collected," the Journal says. Those apps include Realtor.com, which told Facebook when users liked certain real estate properties, and Heart Rate:HR Monitor, which shared a user's heart rate.

One of the most disturbing findings came from Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, which says it has 25 million active users. It told "Facebook when a user was having her period or informed the app of an intention to get pregnant," the Journal reports via its testing. In a statement, Flo said it only sends Facebook "depersonalized" information, but the Journal found there was a "unique advertising identifier" linked to the data. A Flo spokesperson then said the app would "substantially limit" its external analytics tracking and run a privacy audit.

A Facebook spokeswoman said it tells apps not to send personal data, tells them to "be clear" about what information they collect from users, and will crack down further on violators. The Journal tested the apps using "software to monitor the internet communications triggered by using an app," it writes. Online privacy company Disconnect repeated the Journal's testing and confirmed its results. Read The Wall Street Journal's whole report here. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:12 p.m.

David and Louisa Turpin pleaded guilty in a horrifying case of abuse against 12 of their 13 children.

The California parents were arrested last year, with police alleging they underfed and shackled their children, ranging from ages 2 to 29, in decrepit conditions for nearly a decade. The Turpins pleaded guilty to 14 felony counts, including one count of torture, on Friday and will be sentenced in April, per CBS News Los Angeles.

One of the Turpin children escaped from their home outside of Los Angeles in January 2018 and was able to call for help. Police say they found some of the siblings chained to their beds in dark, disgusting conditions. The Turpin siblings detailed their parents' abuse in hundreds of journals, and more disturbing stories have been revealed in the year since. They've since been found to have suffered mental and physical injuries contracted via malnourishment and physical beatings.

The couple originally faced dozens of criminal charges, but they were reduced to 14 counts on Friday. They include torture, abuse of a dependent adult, child endangerment, and false imprisonment charges, per the Palm Springs Desert Sun. None of the charges pertained to the 2-year-old. The parents could end up in prison for life when they're sentenced in two months. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:03 p.m.

R. Kelly has been charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

The R&B singer, who has for years faced allegations of sexual abuse, was charged in Chicago on Friday morning, the Sun-Times reports. His first court date has been scheduled for March 8, the report adds.

Kelly was indicted in 2002 on child pornography charges in connection with a video that allegedly showed him sexually assaulting a minor, but he was ultimately acquitted. Recently, prosecutors reportedly examined a new video that attorney Michael Avenatti says shows Kelly abusing an underage girl. CNN viewed the tape and reported that it appeared to show Kelly abusing a girl, referencing her "14-year-old" genitalia. The New Yorker reported when news of that video came out that "an indictment is pending and Kelly could be arrested soon."

Avenatti responded to the charges on Friday by writing, "After 25 years of serial sexual abuse and assault of underage girls, the day of reckoning for R. Kelly has arrived." Kelly's history of alleged abuse was documented in the recent Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, prosecutors will sign an arrest warrant for Kelly on Friday afternoon. Brendan Morrow

See More Speed Reads